I read this book along with my friends from Mexico (and technically Canada since two of them are there) over the past three months. This book is about multiple women who were big historical figures from various European monarchies: Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Mary Antoinette, Christina of Sweden, Eugénie de Montijo, Queen Victoria of England, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
I really wish that this book had been better… Morató wrote in a way that reminded me of gossip columns that was mostly drama and very little substance. In the first chapter she talks about Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) from Austria and she describes how her learning about life in court was like learning:
…gossip of the high aristocracy…
Honestly, that’s exactly what this book was, pretty much gossip. Although I did learn about each of the royal women in the book I didn’t always trust the author (possibly because of her writing style) so I always ended up going to Wikipedia to learn more about them. (That’s not a good sign!) It was also very confusing because we kept jumping around in the timeline so you’d be reading about when they had kids and then go back to before they were pregnant or someone close to them died but the next paragraph we’d get a whole two paragraphs about them before they died. Just very hard to follow.
Overall I did not enjoy this book and I couldn’t recommend it on good conscience. I’d be interested in reading a non-fiction book about the life of any of these women, but I’d hope for something with a more linear and serious writing style. If you have any recommendations, let me know!
The first book I finished in July was Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan. This is the third and final installment in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, which I started way back in 2018 right before the movie came out. (Still waiting for that second movie…..) I read the second book in 2019 (I think, I actually didn’t record it on Goodreads but I definitely read it, I swear XD). In the first book we mostly follow Rachel and Nick, a couple who go to Nick’s friend’s wedding in Singapore, where Rachel finds out that Nick belongs to a super rich family. There’s romance, there’s drama, there’s a lot of expensive jewelry, dresses, food, oh the food…. ::drool:: The second book delves deeper into Nick’s family and we learn even more about Astrid and Kitty Pong, Kitty’s story was probably my favorite part in this book, where she tries to go from an actress who is not taken seriously to a more refined version of herself. In the second book Nick and Rachel end up in a life or death situation and it’s probably the most action-driven book of the three.
The third installment has much less about Rachel but Nick is still a big player in the book. Nick’s grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed and the family is coming together to say goodbye but also… figure out what they will be getting in the will. Eddie, one of Nick’s cousins is so so so annoying and as melodramatic as usual. Kitty is back with even more ambition to have more power and respect from everyone. There is a particular chapter where Kitty hires Nigel Barker for a photoshoot and, as someone who used to watch America’s Next Top Model, I was laughing so much imagining him in this world, it was a lot of fun. Astrid is also on a journey of her own as she figures out her identity outside of her rich family’s expectations of perfection.
My favorite part of this book was that we got to see to the past and into Su Yi’s story of how she was a war heroine. As the Japanese invaded Singapore, she played a role in helping others stay safe and, even when her father sent her away to India until the war passed, she went back to Singapore and helped in the war effort. It was really cool to see what Su Yi was like in her youth and then how that contributed to how she was from book one and to the end of her life in book three. Also, looking into the real history of the Japanese invasion of Singapore, the real Tyersall park did serve as headquarters for some of the commanders so it was cool to learn some of the history through this book.
While the whole book is still filled with greedy, selfish people, who don’t seem to learn that money isn’t everything (mostly because they have just been taken it for granted), there are also some characters who start to see how there are more things to life than money and power. Of course, you still get a lot of glamour, name/brand dropping, insane parties and purchases that go beyond any “normal” human. Some of the characters are dealing with mental health issues, and that is much more apparent in this third book.
Perhaps the one thing that wasn’t perfect about this book was the time/pacing. Sometimes the book would jump months/days and it was hard to tell. The end was also wrapped up in a couple of sentences for each person, imagine a montage at the end of a movie where you see what happened with each person, not a bad ending at all since it did tie up everything pretty nicely, I just wanted more hahaha.
This is one of the most consistent series I’ve read (rated all three books with 4 stars on Goodreads) since they all kept me laughing, rolling my eyes, and just overall very entertained. As far as escapism goes, this was a great book to read and just forget about everything going on in real life. I definitely stayed up reading it way past my bedtime so if you’re looking for something like that, I do recommend this series.
Supernova, by Marissa Meyer, is the third and final installment of the Renegades series. Renegades is a series where certain people are either born or develop powers, some go on to become heroes and others villains. This is the familiar setting for pretty much any superhero story right? Well, this series has the added layer of romance between a villain and a hero. The romance itself isn’t the main plot but it is an important part of the story. Meyer also manages to create a world where first the Anarchists (or villains) tried to rule Gatlon City and they pretty much had chaos, people just vying for power left and right with no structure to follow. Then the Renegades took over after defeating the Anarchists and now you have a world with rules about who can be a Renegade (basically part of a superhero crime force) and the rest of society. The Renegades are trying to control everything but aren’t being super successful at keeping everyone happy.
As both sides struggle for power, an Anarchist has infiltrated the Renegades as a new recruit, that’s one of our main characters, Nova. She’s super smart, observant, resourceful, and very determined to gain the inside scoop to help the Anarchists come back into power. She’s accepted into a Renegade patrol unit where the other main character, Adrian, and his teammates are enforcing the rules and keeping Gatlon City safe. Of course, there are secrets between many of these characters, shifting points of view from Nova to Adrian, and a great variety of superheroes with the same variety of superpowers.
I so loved the aspect of friendship and chosen families, Adrian is adopted and his teammates are more than just his friends, they are family. Same for Nova, with her parents and sister dying when she was little, her fellow Anarchists became her family. In many ways Adrian and Nova are two sides of the same coin and throughout the series they learn that their lives have become intertwined in more ways than they can imagine.
If you’re looking for a different kind of superhero story, definitely check out this series! There are definitely some things that I think could be improved in the second installment but this third one is pretty great.
What’s your favorite superhero story? What superpower would you have if you could choose one?
It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland is such a wonderful book. It features four queer characters: Eva, Celeste, Steph, and Gina. They started a band called Moonlight Overthrow in high school that became incredibly successful to the point of having world tours and Grammy wins as well as a large fandom. For various reasons the band breaks up and each of them go their own way. Eva goes off to college while still writing songs for other artists, Celeste is now a big pop star giving world tours, Gina is an actress working on movies for Netflix, and Steph is simply back in their hometown with their family. The four of them were best of friends but now they don’t talk and haven’t seen each other since their breakup. Not only that, Eva and Celeste’s relationship ran much deeper and now they are both heartbroken and trying to move on. When a storm ravages their hometown they all decide to come back together for one concert to raise money for the town and perhaps, in the process, repair their friendships.
In this book we go back and forth between the time when the band was together to the present time when they are organizing and rehearsing for their concert. We also get a look into the fandom via tumblr posts and chats between fans of Moonlight Overthrow. It was a very cool way of seeing the importance of the band to not just the band members but also the rest of the world.
For me my favorite character was Steph, they are non-binary, uses they/them pronouns and is pansexual. They had the hardest time while in the band because it was basically marketed as a “girl” band and Steph wasn’t out about being non-binary so that was very difficult for them to be themself while touring with the band. Seeing the whole situation from their perspective was interesting and I identified with them because of their sense of duty to their family. That feeling that we need to be there for our family first and foremost even if that means putting our own dreams aside sometimes. Additionally, this was the first book I’ve read with a non-binary main character and it really helped me practice using they/them pronouns more. I think for that reason alone I will remember this book for a long time and it will also push me to read more books with non-binary characters since it is important to me to be able to naturally change to/from they/them as I do from he to she and vice versa.
Another cool thing about this book that I loved was the love of music. Eva is a very talented songwriter, since the band’s breakup she has been writing songs for other artists and those songs have been at the top of the charts. The way she talks about music and truly loves creating melodies and writing songs is clearly felt through Moreland’s writing. That being said, I’m so so sad that I can’t listen to Moonlight Overthrow’s songs! I actually imagined a lot of their music like that of BTS + Taylor Swift + Demi Lovato. With catchy melodies, amazing lyrics, and out-of-this-world vocals, simply amazing! (OMG can you imagine that collaboration?!)
All in all, this book is about fandoms, chosen family, friendship, queer love, and the love and magic that music brings to people.
I recommend this book to anyone who is part of a fandom, anyone who loves their friends like family, and anyone interested in reading a book with LGBTQ+ representation.
What is your current favorite band/artist/song? Let me know in the comments!
When I was in middle school in Mexico I went to a private all-girls school and one of my classmates was blind. She was one of the smartest people in the class and as far as I can remember, she participated in just about every activity we had with just some assistance from the teacher. I can’t quite remember how it happened but there was a news story about her and her achievements in school and she tried to make her case to the interviewer that what she really needed to further succeed was a computer for blind people. I remember that she was upset later because when the news came out there was no mention about the computer, just a lot of praise and amazement that she was blind and yet she was doing so well in school. Now I understand that the interviewer and the media only wanted that feel good story but didn’t care to further help her with what she truly needed. I also understand now that she was probably one of the more fortunate blind people in Mexico, able to get an education at a private school with teachers who seemed to be able to help her as best as they could. Otherwise, I would encounter blind people in the subway, singing, playing an accordion while someone led them through the crowded aisles. I now have more of a perspective on how it wasn’t a consequence of their lack of sight that led them to beg in the street but because of society’s lack of support.
In Disability Visibility I was able to learn about many other types of disabilities and the people who live with them. How they live, how they try and thrive in a world that doesn’t seem to care much about them. It’s a book about the realities and not about feel good stories, like the one told about my middle school friend. I loved the diversity of people that we hear from, we hear from men, women, non-binary people, queer, straight, trans people, and more! To try to summarize all of that here would be impossible but trust me that throughout this book you get to meet many amazing people and learn about what they’ve been through and what they hope to accomplish. Alice Wong put together a great array of stories and you can also see more of her work at the Disability Visibility Project website.
As I finished each story I went to see what the author was doing now or to learn more about them and their endeavors. I also stopped a lot to think about what I had just read, to process and let it sink in. These are not easy stories to read, in fact, quite a few of them have content warnings at the beginning of each story so it makes it easier to read carefully.
There were some stories in the book that really did blow my mind in the sense that if disabled people were given all the resources that they needed to thrive, they would be able to contribute so much to society! Specifically I think of the story by Wanda Díaz-Merced, which is actually a TED talk that was transcribed for the book. Wanda Díaz-Merced is an astrophysicist who lost her sight late in her career, but she managed to find a different way to study space and one that ended up giving more information to scientists than by just visual means. As non-disabled people we think that there are only so many ways to do things in our lives, but in fact, there are many ways to do things. If we can be more open minded, there really would be endless possibilities! These aren’t stories of people doing things despite their disability, these are stories of people using all of themselves to live their life as best as they can and fight for what they believe in.
I highly encourage non-disabled people to read this book. There are endless social aspects that affect people with disabilities, from public transportation, architecture, scientific research, legal rights, etc., but where they are not given a thought. I realized for example, my house is not accessible to people who use wheelchairs! My workplace does not have an elevator to the second floor! We can at least start noticing and asking for the people in charge to make things accessible to disabled people around us. And even more importantly, we can empathize with their stories and the obstacles that are put in their lives and help remove those obstacles as best as we can.
Back in February of 2020 I had my last trip before [insert all.the.things]. I went to Portland and got to visit one of my favorite bookstores: Powell’s. At that time I had no idea it would be the last time in a while that I’d visit such an awesome bookstore so I didn’t buy too many books (if only I had known….). Still, I got one book purely because of the cover and a couple of key words on the back:
I don’t normally buy books that I’m not looking for but this book just yelled to be picked up! Hell’s library, what’s in Hell’s library?! Is it evil books? Is it books by evil people? What?! I also don’t normally read synopses because I enjoy going into books not knowing much about the plot but this one claimed that this library housed unwritten works, now that’s intriguing! The main character would be the librarian in charge of these unwritten books and that a hero escapes so they have to get him back. With only a tiny bit of unease at stepping out of my comfort zone I bought the book. That was February 2020.
Jump to July 2020 and I figured it was about time to get back into reading since I was stuck at home with not much else to do… Boy it took me a while to get into the book. I don’t blame the book too much though! Middle of a you-know-what and my mental health wasn’t great so my attention span was lacking. I was reading about 20 pages here and there and then I left it for a couple of months until I finally finished it in January of 2021.
Although this book took a while to read I really truly enjoyed it! The story centers Claire, the head librarian of the Unwritten Library. This library is home to all the unfinished works by people on earth. You know, you write half a story and leave it there? Yeah, that story now lives in that library. All the main characters live in those shelves but sometimes they get out of their pages and become “real.” These characters are then put back into their unfinished books by the librarian. But, in one case, a hero escapes his book and manages to get out of the library altogether. Now Claire and Brevity (a retired muse) have to get him back into his book before he meets his author and havoc ensues.
But of course that’s not all! The other big big issue is that someone somewhere has discovered that the Devil’s Bible, written by Lucifer (you know, king of the underworld, head of all things evil, fallen archangel) is somewhere it shouldn’t be. Books are huge sources of power, demons are always going to the Unwritten library to read and borrow some of that power so it is imperative that this particular book doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. So, heaven is making sure they find the book to put it in the proper place and also demons are now after the book! Well, of course Claire and Beverly get mixed into this mystery of where the book is and …well… you’ll have to read the book to find out!
An aspect of this book I really enjoyed also was that we got to visit multiple other afterlife places: Heaven, Valhalla, a random pagan afterlife, etc. The way that one gets there isn’t easy for these characters since one is supposed to be a human soul (I kept forgetting that they were not entirely human throughout the whole book, also a side effect of stopping after a few pages and picking it up again weeks later I bet). There are many challenges and puzzles that they must solve at each turn so that was really interesting.
I highly recommend this first installment of Hell’s Library because not only is it for all book lovers and aspiring writers, it also includes LGBTQ characters. Multiple characters are sexually diverse and the issues that they face through the book (and in their backstories) are treated really well. I did not know this when I read the book but A. J. Hackwith is a queer fantasy and science fiction writer so it makes so much sense now that she was able to write about the identities of the characters so well.
I would like to continue reading this series and perhaps re-read this book now that my mind is more at ease. What do you think? Have you read this book? Do you have an unwritten book that you’ve yet to finish?
An unwritten book is nothing but pure potential, a soul’s potential is power [in Hell]. Power naturally, is all the creatures of Hell care about. They’d descend on the shelves like a swarm of locusts if we let them
“It was a house that turned from the world and cast its gaze inward, a house whose women believed the very walls listened for sin, a house where we whispered the truth or didn’t speak at all” — Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik.
Jasmin Darznik is an author who tells us the story of Forugh Farrokhzad, a woman who lived from 1934 to 1967 in Iran, a place where women didn’t have the freedom to pursue a life outside of marriage and who had to comply to what their culture and society deemed right. Forugh’s life was hard from the beginning as she grew up in a very strict household and which only got harder as she began to discover her love of writing. Forugh was a poet who expressed feelings that women had about their sexuality, their feelings, and their way of life. She broke barriers and eventually became a filmmaker who mixed her poetry with film and created a powerful message about people who had been cast aside without a second thought.
Darznik manages to tell us Forugh’s story through this novel that, although it is not 100% faithful to truth, it does tell us what it would have been like to feel what Forugh went through. This story then lets the reader into the world of women in Iran, from Forugh’s youth, to her untimely death.
The writing is beautiful:
“We were driven by forces we didn’t understand, moving toward a destination we couldn’t see”
There are so many messages to inspire, to make one think about our own society, about our own beliefs:
“The Golshiri men were learned aristocrats who spent their days in leisurely contemplation, but it was his mother, a woman unable to write even her name, who’d shaped his education”
Then there’s also the importance of telling our own stories, because our own stories can inspire others to break barriers and inspiring others in turn:
“And yet I’d never heard of a woman surviving away from her family, without a father or husband to protect her. It wasn’t just beyond hoping; it was beyond imagining.”
How important is it to view yourself in the stories you read? Do you identify with the main characters in your favorite books? Is your story told within the pages of books?
Forugh’s story inspires me to tell my story, to inspire others, and to become at least a bit like Forugh by standing up for what I believe in, and not allowing people’s expectations to keep me from doing what I love.
Needless to say, Jasmin Darznik touched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined through Forugh’s life story. I hope to read more of Darznik’s writing and also to read Forugh’s own poetry and watch her film to see what she saw, if only for a few minutes.